At least one of the bizarre conclusions drawn by some readers from last week's post about the impending "foodie backlash" was that I hate frog legs. More specifically, that I hate local frog legs and the restaurants and chefs that serve them, and wish for them all to perish painfully in a frog leg-fueled fire.
Frog legs are nothing new. I always order some with my fish a la plancha at Tampico. But the frog legs that are currently dominating the market come frozen from China. What's new is an effort to revive the bullfrog business in Louisiana. The BP oil spill has idled a lot of Louisiana fishermen and seafood processors. According to Jim Gossen, the Louisiana seafood industry hopes that reviving the bullfrog market might be a way to take up some of the slack.
And because these frogs are fresh and much larger than the Chinese frog legs we're accustomed to getting in Houston, they're also more expensive -- about $10 a pound for entire frogs. Walsh notes that because of this, chefs need to invent creative ways to use them in order to justify having them on their menus, as many Texans aren't about to shell out so much money for frog legs, regardless of their provenance.
I get my frog legs at B&W Meat Market (4801 N. Shepherd), where, yes, they were originally frozen and they're not from Louisiana. They're also only $5.99 a pound. They don't taste different from the frogs we ate as kids, even when grilled up simply and prepared without fuss or pomp. I suppose that eating these Chinese frogs could make me un-American, but I'm willing to run that risk while preparing what is virtually the same food in the same way my family has eaten for years.
One of the great things about frog legs is that they're low in calories and have no fat, but do have lots of protein and vitamins like riboflavin and phosphorous. Although you'll typically find them fried (perhaps even with bacon and a fried egg on top), I prefer to grill them -- the sweet flavor of the meat is left intact and you'll be in for a perfectly healthy main dish.
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To grill the frog legs, first you'll want to make sure that your grate is well-greased or the tender meat on the frogs will stick straight to the grill, ruining your dinner. Then, simply pat your frog legs dry while raw and season on both sides. I prefer Lawry's seasoned salt, but you could just use salt and pepper or a pinch of garlic salt. Grill them over medium heat for two to three minutes per side, just until they begin to brown.
Remove the legs and serve immediately. You can serve them as you would catfish or chicken breasts, with items like coleslaw, potato salad, hushpuppies, dirty rice or any number of sides. I like to make a nice summer meal out of the frog legs with creamy, sweet cornbread and some meaty, rich purple hull peas cooked down with saltpork.
I'd like to get my hands on some of the big Louisiana bullfrogs and see how they compare to the smaller Chinese frogs I'm accustomed to eating, although I wonder how much of a dent these frogs will be able to make on the seriously impacted seafood and fishing industries in Louisiana right now. Do Texans and other Southerners eat enough frog legs -- or at least as much as they eat things like Gulf shrimp -- to make a noticeable difference? As it stands, Americans eat 20 percent of the world's frog supply each year, behind Belgium and France (no surprise there), while we're much more aggressive consumers of items like shrimp and oysters.
On an unrelated note, stay tuned tomorrow for the recipe for the cornbread seen above, which can be served as either a main dish, a side or even dessert.